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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2615

LTTE missive: Rajapakse response…..

By Chandra Mohan - Syndicate Features

LTTE supremo Vellupalli Prabhakaran had put it bluntly that the only option now left is to go back to war and he set the ball rolling by trying to assassinate President Mahinda Rajapakse’s brother defence secretary, Gotabhaya, with a suicide bomber in the heart of Colombo. There were several symbolisms involved: For one he was the President’s brother; for another as defence secretary he was, in the eyes of the LTTE, an ardent votary of the military campaign. He escaped but two others in the convoy were killed and 14 others injured.

The President is just back from a visit to India where he was given a detailed briefing about devolution of power to the Tamil people. New Delhi holds the view that empowering ethnic Tamils to run their local affairs with dignity will help protect the integrity of Sri Lanka. The Delhi suggestions are at variance with the LTTE proposals made in November 2003 for an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA).

The Tigers had insisted on total control of the sea contiguous to the north and the east of the island, extending up to the Exclusive Economic Zone, where the Sri Lanka Navy would not have jurisdiction. The Tigers’ insistence on unhindered access to the sea is a backdoor for the import of weapons from South-East Asia.

The LTTE was always careful to differentiate between the "internal self-determination" mentioned in the Oslo accord and its own formulation in the ISGA. This is because the Oslo accord was being interpreted as being a withdrawal by the LTTE from its position of "right to secession" and an acceptance of the federal framework for the Tamil people.

India’s early attempts to bring about a solution to the Tamil problem within the framework of a unitary State collapsed when the LTTE sabotaged the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement on the issue of the choice of Government nominee. Thereafter things went downhill and the induction of the Indian Peace Keeping Force gave the LTTE a focus that ended in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in Tamilnadu.

In its proposal for an Interim Self-Governing Authority, the LTTE laid down its territorial ambiance to include the districts of Jaffna in the northern tip of the island, Mannar on the west, Mullaitivu on the north-east, Amparai, Kilinochi, and Vavuniya in the centre of the island; the strategic naval base of Trincomalee and Batticaloa further south formed the limits of its territory where the "Tamil Nation" would govern itself. The concept of a "Tamil Nation" had first been mooted in the talks during the Thimphu rounds in Bhutan in the mid-80s.

The then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar dubbed the ISGA as a blueprint for secession. He pointed out that a separate Auditor General, an independent election commission to hold elections if talks failed over five years, and the insistence on control of a large chunk of the seafront and the EEZ were preparatory to creating a separate State --a stance that made him a candidate for an LTTE bullet in the head which it eventually did with gory precision.

Joint patrolling of the seas as proposed by President Rajapakse during his trip to Delhi would thus be a red rag to the LTTE bull and it is unlikely that India will put itself once again in a position to be targeted by the LTTE.

Even in the Ceasefire Agreement of 2003, the LTTE laid great stress on the clear demarcation of the sea boundary into LTTE and Government held segments. However, that exclusive control of the sea in that sector was sundered when "Col Karuna" broke away and set up his base around Batticaloa in the south and Trincomalee midway to Jaffna.

Also, the imposition of sanctions by the US and putting it on the list of terrorist organisations has shrunk the LTTE’s ability to use the sea route it so coveted to full advantage to maintain logistical links with south-east Asia. Yet, over the last few months the LTTE has demonstrated that it has a formidable naval contingent in the Sea Tigers; Sri Lanka Air Force has not been able to totally decimate it.

Though the suicide attack on the defence secretary has failed and exposed for the first time in the chinks in the LTTE armoury, it is a clear indicator that there are enough Tiger modules within Colombo to execute suicide missions against prominent targets. The abortive attempt on the Pakistani envoy for providing technical expertise and equipment for the Sri Lanka Air Force was one other example of how easily the LTTE can slip into deadly combat mode.

Whether the peace process has been irretrievably destroyed is too early to tell but there are definitely going to be more suicide attacks. It is also unlikely that India’s efforts to bring the LTTE around to its proposal for autonomy within the current political framework will bear fruit. India would best serve regional interests if it increases, unilaterally, its own naval patrolling in the Palk Straits to monitor the arrival of Tamil refugees on Indian shores in Tamil Nadu.

At the same time it must use its diplomatic channels to convince President Rajapakse that it would serve Sri Lankan interests if Tamil aspirations are accommodated and talks are resumed at an early date. The ceasefire is clearly crumbling and there is a need to pull back from the brink.

The LTTE has long wanted foreign intervention in the peace process and it had enshrined in the ISGA a clause for the settlement of disputes like the appointment of the chairperson in the ISGA. It could be resolved with the intervention of the President of the International Court of Justice. However, if Mr Rajapakse also sees the ISGA as the first step to a future state for the Tamils and expects to be able to subdue the Tamils, the consequences for Sri Lanka will be terrible.

- Syndicate Features -

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